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The Papal Edict of 1054

Excommunicating the Patriarch of Constantinople

Its Doubtful Validity and Legitimacy

A Guest Document by Lee Penn


The dream of H.H. John Paul II was to reunite the Churches of the East and West and undo the tragedy symbolized by the Papal Edict of 1054. Unfortunately he was not allowed to do so while, at the same time, was forced to do and/or tolerate many things that were contrary to what he stood for.

To honor that unfulfilled desire of Pope John Paul II we wish to set the historical record straight and asked the guest author to produce this document that speaks for itself.

Here is how it happened...

The Pope sent two legates to Constantinople in 1054 to negotiate with Constantinople on differences between the Christian East and Rome. Humbert was the leader of the Roman delegation. In Constantinople, the papal legates had a series of increasingly acrimonious encounters with Eastern representatives. Then Humbert lost his temper:

“So finally with his patience exhausted, Humbert and his colleagues strode into the Church of Santa Sophia on Saturday, July 16, 1054, right before the chanting of the afternoon liturgy and laid on the altar a bull excommunicating Cerularius, Emperor Michael Constantine, and all their followers, and then departed, ceremonially shaking the dust off their feet.” (1)(2)

“Few ecclesiastical documents of such great moment contain, as historian Stephen Runciman says, so much humbug. (3) Besides refusing the title of Patriarch for Cerularius both personally and as Bishop of Constantinople, the bull accused the Greeks of simony (the major vice of the Western Church at the time, as Humbert knew better than anyone), of rebaptizing Latins (untrue), of allowing priests to marry (incorrect), of baptizing women in labor, of jettisoning the Mosaic Law, of refusing communion to men who had shaven their beards (untrue), and finally, of omitting a clause in the Creed.” (4)

“The populace, which was already angry with the Emperor for the favor he had shown to the Latins, rioted. Only by ordering the bull to be publicly and solemnly burned did the Emperor succeed in calming the city. A synod condemned the actions of the legates and solemnly anathematized Humbert and his companions while carefully avoiding any mention of the papacy.” (5)

“This left the door open for the Pope to resume friendly negotiations – and, in fact, since Pope Leo died before the legates’ arrival in Constantinople, the legates had been acting without actual authority, so it would have been easy for a subsequent Pope to repudiate their action without any loss of prestige. The whole episode could have been glossed over as a mere unfortunate lapse. And at first, it was viewed in this way in the East. But in the West, it was different. With Humbert’s star continuing to rise in the Curia, his version of the affair —which sounded like a hymn of triumph— was accepted as the right one. Subsequent Popes followed his line. Pope Gregory VII was Humbert’s closest friend and would not have dreamed of repudiating his action. Humbert, they believed, did the right thing in excommunicating an unrepentant and contumacious bishop; since the Patriarch’s successors also refused to seek absolution, they too were regarded as partaking in the schism. By continuing to elect and support schismatic bishops, the whole patriarchate of Constantinople was eventually included in the excommunication.” (6)

Despite the events of 1054, it took centuries longer to make the Great Schism final.

As Bokenkotter says, the Crusades “proved disastrous to the cause of Christian unity. The Emperor and the crusaders quarreled over the reconquered city of Antioch. The average Eastern Christian Byzantine soon learned to hate the rude, rapacious Western knights, who returned the compliment with interest. When the crusaders seized Antioch in 1098, their leader committed the unpardonable error of driving the Greek Patriarch into exile and installing a Latin Patriarch in his place. This schism at Antioch was really the beginning of the schism between the Eastern and Western Churches, for until then the other patriarchates were better disposed to Rome than to Constantinople, and if compelled to recognize any ecclesiastical superior would have preferred distant Rome to Constantinople. Though it is impossible to give an exact date for the beginning of the schism, it was the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) that finally ended all hopes of reconciliation.” (7)

It was during the Fourth Crusade that the Sack of Constantinople by the Latins occurred. As Bokenkotter says, “The outrage was stamped indelibly in the Byzantine memory and caused the definitive schism between the Greek and Latin churches.” (8)

Bokenkotter is a liberal Catholic historian. However, other historians, who are on diverse parts of the ecclesiastical spectrum, confirm his analysis. (9)

Warren Carroll, a very pro-Papal, pro-Western historian, nevertheless says that Humbert was the wrong man to have sent as an ambassador to Constantinople. He also says that the decree of excommunication was not a Papal bull, since bulls can only be signed by a Pope. Carroll says that the Pope, Leo IX, would never have signed the document. In any case, the decree was given on July 16 – and the Pope who sent Humbert to Constantinople had died in April. (10)

The Great Schism was, clearly, the result of BOTH sides failing to act as Christians.

(1) Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, rev. ed., 1979, p. 148
(2) July 16 is the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Cerularius was the Patriarch of Constantinople.
(3) Here, Bokenkotter cites this footnote in his text: Runciman, The Eastern Schism, Oxford Univ. Press, 1955, p. 48
(4) Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, rev. ed., 1979, p. 148. The accusation of “omitting a clause in the Creed” refers to the Eastern refusal of the filioque, which the West had added to the Creed.
(5) Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, rev. ed., 1979, p. 148
(6) Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, rev. ed., 1979, pp. 148-149
(7) Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, rev. ed., 1979, p. 150
(8) Thomas Bokenkotter, A Concise History of the Catholic Church, rev. ed., 1979, p. 150
(9) For example, see these sources: Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners: A History of the Papacy, Yale Univ. Press, 2001, pp. 116-117; Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church, Penguin Group, 1993, pp. 58-61. (Ware is an Eastern Orthodox bishop.); Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, MacMillan, 1976, pp. 186-187; Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom – A History of Christendom, Vol. 2, Christendom College Press, 1987, pp. 478-482.
(10) Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom – A History of Christendom, Vol. 2, Christendom College Press, 1987, pp. 478-482.

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Published on October 16, 2003

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